Campaign Finance Reform update – Expense limits for local elections too little too late? Action needed.

BC Legislature

Campaign finance reform is one of the most important tasks required to fix serious ills corrupting our civic system (click for image). The provincial government is looking at making some legislative changes in 2014 and 2017, but they appear likely to fall far short of what is needed. For citizens who wish to take action, please sign our petition calling for five critical reforms, and encourage your MLA to push for them. For the latest update on provincial moves, read on…

In the ongoing process of considering future changes to legislation, the Province of British Columbia just recently posted a discussion paper on expense limits for local elections. Changes specifically related to expenditure limits are only proposed to come into effect after the 2014 municipal elections. The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development webpage states: “Expense limits will not be implemented in 2014″.Expense limits paper

Feedback on the proposed changes will be accepted until January 31st, 2014 via the options provided on the Ministry’s webpage.

The first white paper on BC municipal election reform was released on September 9, 2013. The province has posted a Summary of Consultation Comments about this paper. Additional details on the draft Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LEFCA) can be found in our earlier post on CityHallWatch: More needed, faster: Province’s draft BC legislation for campaign finance reform for 2014 civic election. Public input due Oct 23

The province’s current plan (failing to address big money contributions in the 2014 municipal elections) goes contrary to earlier promises.

With the upcoming Sochi Olympics there will be a lot of emphasis on fair play and an even playing field. Could developer contributions be considered the “steroids” of municipal election races in Vancouver?

Almost all of the currently elected representatives in the City of Vancouver were backed by big money contributions. Electoral organizations that spend over $2 million (as is the case for Vision Vancouver and the NPA) have a clear advantage in overall vote counts. Should the province accelerate its schedule in order to implement finance reform for the November 2014 municipal elections? If you think “Yes!” tell your MLA about it.

Victoria City HallAlert: The Province is also seriously considering a proposal to extend municipal terms from the current 3-year cycle to 4 years. Currently elections will be held in 2014, 2017, 2020, etc. If changed, they will be in 2014, 2018, 2022, etc.

If this scenario unfolds, citizens of British Columbia may be facing the worst possible combination: 4-year terms and no finance limits in 2014. The current BC government could be setting pieces in place to give powerful corporate and union interests clear sailing and a continuation of excessive influence of our municipal governments until 2018.

The province is trying to find a ‘one size fits all’ solution for all municipalities in BC. While cities in the Lower Mainland and in Greater Victoria may face similar issues in election reform; the needs for rural areas may be different. The discussion paper made a number of interesting notes specific to Vancouver:

Spending in Vancouver is uniquely high and appears to increase each election. In 2008, spending by all elector organizations that had at least one endorsed candidate elected, plus the spending disclosed by their endorsed candidates (whether elected or not), totalled about $4.5 million. In 2011, the total was about $5.3 million. Total spending in Vancouver is far higher than spending in any other community in BC.

The discussion paper is recommended reading. It looks at case studies from Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland & Labrador. Quebec has different rules for municipalities of different sizes, and interestingly, the provincial government reduced spending limits by 30% for the 2013 elections. An example from Toronto showed that a Councillor was able to spend only $27,464 (in Ward 7, one of 44 Wards). Ontario has a ban on political parties organizing in municipal elections; all candidates are independents.

(This observation raises a worthy point for discussion. Is a serious review of the civic system required in major BC cities with political parties — Vancouver, Surrey, Burbnay, etc. — where large donors may have undue influence and many decisions may be made in closed caucus meetings, inaccessible to the public and even to other elected members of city council? )

The City of Regina has a limit of $10,439 for a Council candidate and $62,635 for a Mayoral candidate.

The discussion paper has additional examples; the examples illustrated here are only from other Canadian provinces.

The work by the Province of British Columbia focuses on establishing an upper spending limit for candidates. It’s equally important to consider caps on single donations and to examine a ban on corporate or union contributions, as outlined in the ‘Get Big Money Out of Civic Politics’ petition. Please see our full page about the petition here. We also have a short link to this petition available at bigmoneyout.org.

A number of Canadian provinces give an expense allowance per voter; these calculations also apply to councillors seeking election in ward systems. It’s worth noting that it’s very difficult to compare BC to other provinces due to the at-large system in BC. At-large systems are rare elsewhere. But that is another topic, for another day.

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